Yesterday, during his closing commentary on the Slate “Hang Up and Listen” Podcast, Josh Levin highlighted USA Soccer’s recent World Cup Qualification success and contrasted it with the U.S failure to qualify for the 1986 World Cup. It’s an entertaining listen and a stark reminder of how far USA Soccer has come in the past 28 years.
Slate Podcast: Link (referenced commentary starts at 58:20)
In it’s final qualification match the U.S. lost 1-0 to Costa Rica in front of around 12,000 fans in Torrance, CA. And most of those fans were Costa Rican Expats. Shortly, thereafter the North American Soccer League (NASL) folded and the future didn’t look very bright at all for USA soccer. But, as we all know things soon started to turn around. The U.S. successfully hosted the World Cup in 1994 and restarted a professional league (MLS) which is now pretty stable and drawing decent crowds. The Women’s team has won two world cups and youth soccer is played by millions across the country. On TV just about every soccer match in Europe is available for viewing now on some network. The U.S. is by no means anywhere near as soccer crazy as the rest of the world is, but the sport matters in this country and that is a remarkable success story.
It’s been common practice for many years to hold up soccer’s growth as the model for team handball to follow. As I pointed out in this post several years ago, there are a number of flaws with this soccer analogy. You simply just can’t photo copy soccer’s success or the successful growth in other sports like lacrosse, rugby and ultimate Frisbee. What you can do, however, is take some pieces of their success and adapt them to a handball context.
And perhaps most importantly, you can take comfort in the fact that another sport was able to turn things around so dramatically. I’m guessing if you were to ask the players and the handful of fans in Torrance cheering on Team USA, 28 years ago where they thought USA soccer was heading it would have been a lot of doom and gloom. Yes, take some comfort in that it’s always darkest before the dawn.
America Soccer Now: American Soccer in 1985: The Failure in Torrance: Link